Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!

Dear Wind! You have been here since Christmas, making your presence felt continuously, at times in a rather forceful manner. Please fuck off. You've more than outstayed your welcome. I just want to have one single run without having to work like a trooper just to keep moving at times. Take that Storm Dylan with you as well on your way out and tell it to go elsewhere.

This might me our last Christmas in Kerry, which feels like the end of an era. We've been here since 2003, so I guess in some ways it is. To add to the feeling of moving on, our youngest daughter informed us that she no longer believes in Santa, which means that after all those years our house has now turned into a magic-free zone once more.

I used to hate Christmas for the shallow consumerism it promotes, but seeing little eyes light up at the mere thought of Santa is special and a much treasured memory. I'd like to hold onto that rather than concentrate on the superficial side of it.

On the running front, things are progressing nicely, a few hiccups notwithstanding. I always leave 2 relatively easy days after each speed session, including hill sprints, which is a nod to my ageing body and its reduced capacity for recovery, so Wednesday and Thursday were reasonably easy. The next session was on for Friday. My initial plans were another evaluation workout but the strong winds put me off, the numbers just don't make sense in those conditions, so I changed it to half-mile repeats, and since it was so windy I did them on the Ard-na-Sidhe road where it is a little bit sheltered. The plan was to run them at 6:30 - 6:20 - 6:10 pace and if I was still up for more at that point then do more at 6:10 pace. The odd numbered intervals were into the wind but net downhill (but with a nasty little steep climb) and the even numbered ones with the wind but net uphill, though the elevation change was not significant.

The first was fine, so was the second, though both could have done with a better sense of pace instead of starting out at 5:00 pace. The third was much more challenging, and it didn't help that the watch displayed slower numbers than later appeared on the web page after importing the data, which meant I inadvertently ran each repeat a few seconds faster than planned. Whether it was the pace or the wind or the asthma but I then spent the next 80 seconds trying to breath as if through a thin straw and knew that was the end of the speed session and made my way home. I also noticed afterwards that the second repeat was at a lower HR than the first despite being faster - the wind direction clearly being more significant than the modest elevation change.

Halfway through the way home I suddenly seemed to black out for a split second; I felt light headed and found myself stumbling into the middle of the road rather than running at its edge, feeling a little unsteady. However, it was over as soon as it began, and since I was on my way home anyway I  just continued on. I used to faint a few times when I was a teenager, which felt somewhat similar, and it was always related to low blood sugar, so maybe there's something in there as well. However, I sure was glad I had not attempted a fourth interval.

I was fine afterwards. I then made use of my last day in Kerry on Sunday to head for the local hills, in the freezing cold rain and the remnants of Storm Dylan still noticeable. It made for 2 character building hours.

And so ends another year. Race-wise it was disappointing with my one A-race a complete disaster, but things have picked up significantly since with an unexpectedly good performance in Dublin and some much coveted silverware in Monaghan and Sixmilebridge, and also coming first in the B2B in Howth. It leaves me with plenty of optimism for 2018.

2017 Yearly Mileage: 3062

27 Dec
10 miles, 1:17:31, 7:45 pace, HR 140
28 Dec
10 miles, 1:15:42, 7:34 pace, HR 143
29 Dec
6.7 miles, 53:28, 7:58 pace, HR 144
   3 x 800 @ 6:24 (163), 6:16 (161), 6:06 (167)
30 Dec
10 miles, 1:18:12, 7:49 pace, HR 146
31 Dec
16 miles, 2:08:59, 8:04 pace, HR 141

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Ho Ho Ho

The weather Gods aren't entirely in the Christmas Spirit this year. The temperatures dropped close to 0 again but were accompanied by icy cold rain and some biting wind, which are just about the least favourite running conditions I can think of. Of course it didn't stop me from running. It might feel a bit uncomfortable for a few minutes but once you're warmed up you're fine. And if you feel warm at the start of your run, you're overdressed.

I stayed in Dublin until Saturday, which saved me from the usual traffic jam on Friday evening that turns the trip towards Naas into a 2.5 hours stop-start session. We left Saturday lunchtime and just breezed past those sections. Now I have a week in Kerry, which means I finally have a bit of a break. I hardly had any holidays this year as I had them pay me off both times I changed jobs and immediately started new employment on both occasions.

I'm getting into damn good shape now, at least damn good aerobic shape. I think the back-to-back marathons are really paying off. I didn't do a long run or a speed session the week after Howth in order to ensure I can recover fully, but now it's systems go again.

I did another session of hill sprints this morning, on the usual dirt road to the Caragh Lake Coillte area. It was freezing cold so I did a few miles just to warm up (7:50 pace, HR 135) before launching  myself up the hill, 8-10 seconds for each repeat, full tilt as fast as you can accelerate, with a long recovery of about 2 minutes, including walking back down the hill. A few things I noticed were that the HR dropped down to 110-120 during the recovery and was still in the 120s at the end of each sprint and only went into the 140s with delayed reaction. The pressure I always feel in my chest started appearing after 3 or 4 repeats but much less bothersome that usual. At the 7th sprint I felt I could no longer produce full power output and called it a day.

I can feel it and the numbers do tell the same story. I'm starting to get into damn good shape.
22 Dec
10.15 miles, 1:23:40, 8:14 pace, HR 139
23 Dec
10 miles, 1:18:58, 7:53 pace, HR 139
24 Dec
11 miles, 1:28:01, 8:00 pace, HR 142
25 Dec
10 miles, 1:16:06, 7:36 pace, HR 144
26 Dec
8.75 miles, 1:14:48, 8:32 pace, HR 133
   incl. 7 x 8 sec hill sprints

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Happy Solstice

From tomorrow morning on it will get brighter again. Good thing too. As much as I like Winter (it's an Austrian thing), the lack of daylight does make things tricky, from SAD to the fact that running in the dark through Dublin City isn't entirely without risks. At the moment it's invariably pitch dark every time I run and cycling home from work can be a bit scary at times as well, mostly due to the appalling state of the cycle paths, especially around UCD.

Anyway, my running is entirely focused on recovery this week. For once this is going really well. It is quite astounding that running two exceptionally hilly marathons in around 3:40 is so much easier on the body than one single flattish marathon in 3:10; at least I find it rather surprising.

I never had any muscle pain, walking down the 3 flights in our apartment was never an issue (I didn't even remember that I was supposed to be sore) and running 5 miles a day, as I always do immediately after a marathon/short ultra, felt actually a bit too short. By Tuesday I was already tempted to run a bit more but didn't. Instead, I re-started my cycle commute (me being redundant sure didn't last long!), and the 20 miles of cycling seemed to tire the legs more than the back-to-back marathons had done.

Wednesday was the one day where the legs felt a bit heavy during the first mile, which I attribute entirely to the cycling, but even then they started to feel better very quickly and by the end of the run I felt so good I was sorry to be done.

My HR values have been staggeringly low. It's been a while since I last saw values in the 120s. The HRV measurements are giving me very good readings as well, the last few days have always shown a solid green light, indicating excellent recovery (still not 100% sure about the validity of the those numbers, though).

I'll take a bit of break from marathon-length training runs now, hoping to focus a little bit more on running faster rather than going through an endless cycle of marathon/recovery/marathon. I already started that the week before Howth with a set of hill sprints and one evaluation workout, as a kind of transition. However, I'll wait for at least one week after Howth before even thinking about another fast run. That phase will last until Donadea in February, at least if things go to plan, and I hope that a slightly different stimulus will help to push things up a bit more.
18 Dec
5+ miles, 43:16, 8:29 pace, HR 125
19 Dec
5+ miles, 42:01, 8:19 pace, HR 128
20 Dec
8+ miles, 1:05:03, 7:59 pace, HR 136
21 Dec
9.7 miles, 1:16:03, 7:50 pace, HR 138

Sunday, December 17, 2017

EOI B2B marathons in Howth

The back-to-back marathons I ran 2 months ago in Monaghan had gone so well that when I saw that the EOI crowd was putting on a similar event in Howth in the middle of December I decided to do that as well.

I had never run any of the EOI marathons before, even though I'm good friends with all of the organisers. As long as I was living in Kerry it was always a bit too far away and once I had moved to Dublin I still spent most weekends in Kerry, so I had to wait until now. A bit surprisingly, the back-to-back marathons were scheduled for Friday and Saturday rather than over the weekend, but since I happened to be made redundant from work on Wednesday the schedule actually suited me very well.

It sure was a low-key event on Friday, just turn up shortly before nine am and then off we run. You'll be pointed into the right direction on a rather idiot-proof loop, just follow the main road until you're back in Howth. No road closures, so stay on the footpath, and certainly no chip timing or pacing teams, but a table at the end of each loop with drinks and encouragement.

We started pretty much on time. Howth itself was very quiet and there was very little traffic on the road. It was freezing cold, especially thanks to a biting wind, so I wore long sleeves as well as running tights, though at least half of the lads were clad in shorts nevertheless. The loop was to be run in reverse to the standard EOI Howth loop, which meant an insanely steep climb right from the off, about 1.2 miles and almost 400 feet / 115 meters of elevation gain, though those numbers don't give justice to the much steeper first half of that climb. Not only was that the start to a marathon, I would also have to keep my legs fresh for tomorrow, so I tried to take it easy but it's hard to take it easy on a hill like that and after the very first mile I was already knackered! There was some respite on the other side of the hill in form of a much more gradual downhill segment for close to three miles, where once again I tried to take it easy, though with the fastest mile coming through at about 7 minutes I'm not sure I was entirely successful in that. Once we got to the bottom we had about 2.5 miles of flat roads to get us back to Howth, only to do it all over again. The second loop was already more challenging but I held it together alright. It was during the third loop that the suffering started, and once you start feeling the pain on that climb you're unlikely to recover much. At least I had plenty of targets to catch on that third loop because that's where I gradually reeled in the early starters who'd set off an hour ahead of us, and every time I passed one of them and exchanged a few friendly words, the next one was usually in sight already. However, by the time I got back to Howth for the third time I was pretty much cooked and not looking forward to a fourth loop.

Totally wasted after day 1
This time that hill REALLY hurt, and the only reason I managed to survive was because I kept telling myself that this was the very last time I would ever have to put myself through that particular torture because tomorrow's loop would be run in reverse, though I wasn't particularly looking forward to bombing down that steep decline on tired legs either. After what felt like far too many minutes in hell and agony I got to the top, not that the downhill segment felt any easier. I just about held myself together and my pace had declined sufficiently to barely make 8-minute miles on the downhill. Once I was back on the flat bit I gradually managed to get into my head that I was almost done and eventually picked up the pace a little bit again for a reasonable finish. All the while I had not checked my pace even once, just used the watch from time to time to reassure myself of the distance covered but had literally no clue as to what time I was doing, until the moment I pressed the stop button at 3:38:54. I more or less collapsed on the bench, feeling wiped out and totally exhausted. I left soon after because I was getting cold very quickly and drove home, which was one of the most uncomfortable drives ever as my left leg, which had been fine while running, kept cramping every time I had to use the clutch, which was not great timing driving through a very busy Dublin. The cramps kept on coming all afternoon back home, until they finally subsided in the evening. In addition I tortured myself a bit more in form of an ice bath, which was probably the most torturous part of the day, despite everything else.

And as for never having to climb that hill again? As soon as I had finished Gary explained that they would have to change tomorrow's route due to a Christmas market in Howth, and instead of doing 4 loops we would instead run over the mountain and back again three times each, basically leaving out the flat bit and just keeping the hills in it. I looked at him wide-eyed, waiting for the punchline that never came. He was being serious!

My left calf still hurt from all the previous day's cramping when I got up on Saturday morning. It's fair to say I was not looking forward to it. I was nervous about my legs cramping, about running out of energy on the hills, about the pain that was in store.

(most of) the runners for day 2
There were a few more runners in it on Saturday compared to Friday but the vibe was still as friendly and the race was still low-key, with a minimum of fuss, absolutely perfect for a training run with friends. It was even colder than the day before but once we were off that immediately became much less of an issue than having to climb that hill yet again. I started at a measured effort with half the field streaming past me initially, though that included the half-marathon runners and of course plenty of runners who hadn't put themselves through the wringer the day before. Despite my fears, the legs actually felt pretty good without any muscle pain, and the longer the hill dragged on the more I grew in confidence and I started moving up through the field again, without apparently having to increase the effort. Due to the lower temperatures the footpaths were still partially covered by a slippery layer of frost and you had to be a bit careful, on the first loop at least, though thankfully there were no accidents as far as I can tell. I still felt surprisingly good on the first downhill, even going a bit faster than yesterday with a 6:50 mile, not that I was aware of it at the time. I just tried to keep everything under control. We got to the turn-around point after about 4.4 miles and now I would get to experience the hill in reverse for the first time. The one thing I noticed straight away was that it felt a lot steeper than the gradual gradient when running downhill, and this time we had close to 3 miles of climbing to do before we would get to the top (with a dip in the middle). The one bit I was dreading the most was actually the steep downhill into Howth on the other side, I didn't know what that would do to my quads. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how well that went. The footpath was very uneven and the road too busy to be running on it so you couldn't just release the breaks and go hell for leather, but a more measured descend worked very well. Ger asked how I was doing, I responded with "better than expected" to which he encouragingly responded "just wait for loops 2 and 3, then". Thanks, mate! I wasted some time here by drinking my bottle at the table instead of bringing it with me (because it was my son's bottle, not a throw-away, and I didn't want to carry it with me for the next 8.8 miles), but soon enough I was back on the road, climbing that hill yet again, and feeling better than expected yet again.

about to waste a lot of time!
Nevertheless this was starting to become challenging again and my breathing was a bit ragged, but as always I sounded worse than I felt. I still managed to keep going at a decent enough rate. On that loop I once again started to catch most of the early starters, and as always we exchanged a few friendly words along the way, with "looking good" almost always being an outright lie but nobody ever minds. I wasted even more time at the turnaround point when due to fatigue and clammy fingers in the cold I struggled to extract my little ziplock bag with caffeine pills and salt tablets from my pocket, promptly spilling the entire content on the road and picking it up again (not giving a damn about road dirt), which may have cost me as much as a minute. Ah well. I wasn't going for a time today anyway. The hill on the return leg was still steeper than it had been on the downward stretch but I got over it and the steep downhill on the other side was once again better than expected.

There was even more time wasted at the aid station when Ger offered me a Coke and I sure wasn't going to say no but had to walk a bit to drink it without spilling it all over me. I guess I really wasn't in race mode today, which is not a bad thing when you're doing a training run, of course. The hill definitely was a challenge now, alright, but I actually felt a lot better than yesterday. I got over it, again. I caught a runner on the downhill who then seemed to just disappear, not sure what exactly happened but I didn't see him on the return leg. For once I got through an aid station without wasting time and did the glory stretch all the way home.

Much better after day 2
I finished in 3:41:08, just 2 minutes slower than yesterday, which is probably the time I needlessly wasted at various aid stations, on an even tougher course and on pre-fatigued legs, so overall actually a much better run than the one on Friday. I might have exaggerated a little bit when I said I was feeling fresh as a daisy but the contrast to the day before was truly remarkable. Once again I could not hang around for too long because I was getting cold and made my way home, which also went a lot better than yesterday.

I was flabbergasted when I saw I had averaged 138 on the HR on Saturday. Even considering that I had taken it easy, that's an incredibly low reading for a marathon, hilly or not.

All in all it had been a very good set of races, thanks to Gary, Frank and Ger from the EOI crowd, all their helpers,  and all the runners who shared the road with me on those 2 days. I expect I'll be back for more soon enough, though maybe not in Howth.
13 Dec
7.6 miles, 1:00:55, 8:00 pace, HR 141
14 Dec
6.3 miles, 51:56, 8:14 pace, HR 136
15 Dec
EOI B2B marathon p1, Howth, 3:38:54, 8:20 pace, HR 144
16 Dec
EOI B2B marathon p2, Howth, 3:41:08, 8:26 pace, HR 138
17 Dec
5+ miles, 45:11, 8:56 pace, HR 125
All photos from the EOI FB page. Thanks, guys!

Friday, December 15, 2017

EOI B2B Howth Marathons, Part 1

This is not a race report. I'll wait for tomorrow's race before I start writing one.

There's a hill in Howth. Actually, Howth IS a hill. I can see it very clearly all the way back from my balcony in Cherrywood. It's just one single hill, thankfully. Except that we got to climb it 4 times on that loop course.

I survived the 4th loop only because I told myself that I'll never have to climb the ridiculously steep bit ever again because tomorrow's race would be held in reverse direction (though I was already dreading running downhill on that). Except that Gary told me, after I'd finished, that they will have to change the course because of tomorrow's Christmas market in Howth, so we'll just go over the hill and back several times, leaving out the flat bit. On already dead legs from day 1. That's going to be ... interesting.

Have you ever found yourself at a junction in central Dublin (actually, any very busy junction anywhere in the world will do), the light just turned green but you can't move off because your left calf is just about to cramp violently and you can't operate the clutch, and you're starting to panic because of all the cars behind you, except that due to your rising panic you forgot which way you have to move your foot to release the cramp, because if you move it the wrong way the cramp will get much, much worse and you're already screaming in pain? It's not a good place to be in.  Seriously.

Well, if you do find yourself in such a situation then the answer is to dorsiflex the foot, which I thankfully managed to remember before an irate driver behind me would have taken me out. The drive home was a rather uncomfortable one. Interestingly, it was only the left leg that gave me troubles, even though when running I almost always cramp in my right leg only. It's operating the clutch that was the problem. I'm tempted to hire an automatic for my next marathon.

Which is tomorrow. Oh F...!

My right knee hurt on loop 1's downhill section, the balls of my right foot REALLY hurt through laps 2 and 3 and my right calf was very painful on lap 4; not a cramp, some muscle pain. I need a new right leg!

Second place today in a very modest 3:38:54. I tried to take it easy, with tomorrow weighing very heavily on my mind.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Man In Tights

Winter is here. We even have the fields covered in white, though in Dublin at least that's frost at the moment, not snow. We did have snow as well but it didn't stick. Now we just have the freezing cold temperatures and the icy road conditions (I like the former, not the latter). Nevertheless I get amused by Met Eireann's description of the present conditions as "bitterly cold". Not where I come from, guys. Bitterly cold to me is -20 degrees (ok, -15 qualifies as well) and temperatures around the freezing point are just  - Winter. Suck it up.

Anyway, after taking a good look at my numbers and my training in the past few months I have come to the conclusion that while the base training is getting me into pretty good shape (as witnessed by running a surprisingly easy 3:10 Dublin marathon) this is just about as good as it gets and for further improvement I have to introduce a new stimulus. None of that comes as a surprise, I had been waiting for that point ever since I started training. If anything, I am surprised base training got me as far as that. Also, I didn't want to do any faster running until I was completely sure I had recovered from Dublin/Sixmilebridge, which seems to be the case now. My numbers are good. My resting HR has dropped as low as 36, which equals the lowest number I have ever seen, and that was while taking recordings in a seated position, not lying down. A low HR doesn't automatically translate into being in good shape and well rested but the other numbers, and most importantly the way I feel, supports the same conclusion.

As an introduction into faster stuff I did a set of hill sprints last Saturday, back home in Kerry, which enabled me to do them on the same hill I used to do them on in previous years. Then again, in my memory it had been much steeper and I was surprised how "easy" it felt. I still had the familiar tightness in my chest 20-30 seconds after each sprint, which I now attribute to my exercise-induced asthma, plus a wave of nausea, but I'm used to that by now. What wasn't quite so great was that my right calf started to feel tight; maybe I should have called it a day after 6 repeats rather than 8. The tightness stayed with me over the next few days when running (not noticeable at all otherwise) but it has gotten better. By Tuesday morning I could just about feel it during the first mile but after that it was gone.

The "long" run on Sunday was made interesting by some rather inclement weather, which prevented me from following my initial plan of running around the lake. I didn't want to be caught out on high grounds in a storm, so I remained reasonably close to home but still got one big hill in. I had to be home in time for Cian's birthday party and cut it short at mile 15, though in marked contrast to last week I was still moving well at that time.

Back in Dublin I did one more workout on Tuesday morning. I resurrected the Evaluation workout, which consist of running 4 miles at HR 160 (used to be 161 but I made a small concession to old age) while taking splits at each mile and basically measuring how much you slow down well you can hold the pace while running at the same HR. In this case I was less interested in the actual numbers but more interested in the fitness gains from a moderate workout. Actually, when I say moderate, it didn't exactly feel particularly moderate at the time. I paid the price for not having run at that effort level for many, many months and was breathing rather hard, and my asthma was noticeable as well but all was fine in the end. Then again, once I had finished the workout I very quickly felt fully recovered and rather good, so it can't have been that hard. Oh and the numbers - well, I'm having troubles getting them off my damn watch and Suunto's movescount website insists on rounding them to the nearest 5, so all I can say it was about 6:30, 6:30, 6:40, 6:40, with 40-45 seconds of full recovery for the HR to come down to 130. I need to bring my old Garmin 310 to Dublin with me, it works better for such a workout (the evaluation workout is the one reason why I kept it after replacing it 3 years ago with my Suunto, which is a better watch in all other aspects). Anyway, while I don't have the exact numbers that will do as a baseline. In fact, that's a pretty good baseline, I had not expected to be under 7-minute miles, certainly not for the 3rd and 4th miles.
7 Dec
9.35 miles, 1:13:26, 7:51 pace, HR 139
8 Dec
8.35 miles, 1:06:22, 7:56 pace, HR 141
9 Dec
8.75 miles, 1:17:08, 8:48 pace, HR 131
   incl. 8 x 8-10 sec hill sprints, 2 minutes recovery
10 Dec
15+ miles, 2:01:39, 8:04 pace, HR 138
11 Dec
8.35 miles, 1:06:18, 7:56 pace, HR 139
12 Dec
9.2 miles, 1:07:27, 7:19 pace, HR 145
   incl. 4 miles @ 6:36, HR 160, 40-45 sec recovery to HR 130

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Missing Ingredient

One thing that has been slightly bugging me since moving here to Dublin is a distinct lack of hills on my running routes. Obviously I can see the mountains right behind my home but the problem is that most of my running here is my commute from and to work and there is no realistic way to incorporate those mountains into that.

However, last weekend was one of the rare ones where I stayed in Dublin, so I was keen to see some new places. Strava is great in that way, I just had a quick peek where others (Gary, Mick, Dom, ...) are running when in the vicinity and quickly came up with a a couple of viable options that would see plenty of verticals.

the scratches to prove it
On Saturday I headed towards King Puck's Castle, which had been taunting me for months because I can actually see it right from my window. Also, coming from Killorglin I just had to head up to a place named like that. Obviously. I got my route slightly wrong, however. First I followed the road until it turned into a dirt road and then I took the trail that seemed to head towards the top, only for it to end right in the middle of nowhere. I decided against turning round so I bushwhacked my way to the top through some gorse, which really was not my favourite part of the run. And, of course, just before I reached the top I came across the trail that I should have taken all along, which would have saved me from bushwhacking and the bleeding scratches that came with it. I'll know better next time.

I went for a longer loop on Sunday, but this time exclusively on the road. The plan was to be out for 15-18 miles, depending on how I felt. I did wonder if it was a good idea to head for the hills twice in a row when I had been confined mostly to relatively flat routes for the last few months, but weekends are two consecutive days after all, that's how it works. I made the mistake of running way too hard at the start when climbing the long winding road towards Kielternan, but didn't quite realise it at the time. The view from the Scalp Road was absolutely stunning, it's amazing to have such a place so close to Dublin. However, after crossing the Wicklow border and going through Enniskerry it gradually dawned on me that I had overcooked myself and I was starting to run on fumes. By the time I went through Bray, about 12 miles in, I'd had more than enough and would have loved to be done but I was still 3 miles from home. I dragged my sorry backside home at increasingly pedestrian pace which made this a 15 mile run, and absolutely no intentions of adding any more.

As nice as the view was, Gary warned me afterwards about running on the Scalp Road, where there is at least one mile without sidewalk and where you might encounter some less than accommodating drivers, so I might have to reconsider future options.

After exhausting myself like that over the weekend I very much expected Monday to be a tough run and wasn't particularly looking forward to it, only to be very pleasantly surprised to have a lovely set of seemingly fresh legs available to me. I took it easy and could have sworn I was running not a second faster per mile than 8-minute pace, but would have been wrong. The same happened again on Tuesday, I could have sworn I was going very slowly, only to be a good bit faster than 8-minute pace. My internal gauge seems to have gotten misaligned. The HR is actually in line with a slightly faster pace but the subjective RPE is a bit off and every step feels easier than I would expect it to.

Not that I'm complaining. I'm starting to experience that flow again when everything just feels effortless and easy. Running through Dublin isn't ideal for that sort of state, every traffic light or road crossing can get me out of The Zone, but I usually manage to get back into it straight away. Nice.
2 Dec
9+ miles, 1:21:29, 8:51 pace, HR 140
   partially off road
3 Dec
15+ miles, 2:01:57, 8:06 pace, HR 141
   rather hilly
4 Dec
9.3 miles, 1:12:33, 7:48 pace, HR 140
5 Dec
9.25 miles, 1:12:10, 7:48 pace, HR 141
6 Dec
am: 9.2 miles, 1:11:39, 7:47 pace, HR 141
pm: 9.3 miles, 1:15:30, 8:07 pace, HR 140

Friday, December 01, 2017


As mentioned last week, I have a new toy. Accidentally, really. All I was looking for was a replacement for the HRM I somehow managed to lose, but once I had the new one in my hands it dawned on me that it supports HRV measurements and I started using that a few days ago. The early readings were encouraging and improving, until yesterday morning when it suddenly sounded a warning that my Parasympathetic Nervous System was overactive and I was in danger of overtraining.

That's a new one. I don't know very much about HRV readings and I certainly don't know all that much about the Central Nervous System but my understanding was that overtraining would be related to an overactive Sympathetic Nervous System, not the Parasympathetic one. And I'm pretty sure I didn't move into an overtrained state overnight on Wednesday, when the previous days' readings had been very good. There is still a learning curve here, either by me or the HRV app.

The legs are starting to feel better again but the Dublin/Sixmilebridge load is still there. I am consciously running easier now than I did after Dublin and I can tell an improvement in my recovery rate by RPE, though it's not really reflected in the numbers, which are quiet similar to the post-Dublin ones. I'll see. I tend to feel good if there are 1.5 days between running but a lot less good if the rest is only half a day, which isn't too surprising, obviously. Next week will tell me more
because the third week after DCM was when I started to feel significantly better again; let's hope for a repeat.

On the plus side, while the company I am presently working for is sadly closing down I already have a job offer from another place, before I even finished working here. That's great, I won't be starving after all. I was actually looking forward to having some time dedicated to running and training full time but it looks like that's not going to happen.

Onwards and Upwards.
26 Nov
10 miles, 1:20:01, 8:00 pace, HR 139
27 Nov
8.4 miles, 1:06:25, 7:54 pace, HR 140
28 Nov
9.25 miles, 1:13:18, 7:55 pace, HR 138
29 Nov
9.5 miles, 1:16:48, 8:05 pace, HR 139
30 Nov
9.3 miles, 1:13:40, 7:55 pace, HR 142
1 Dec
9.25 miles, 1:15:22, 8:08 pace, HR 139

Saturday, November 25, 2017

... And Back To Recovery

The main training strategy for this cycle so far has been to run one big, long training session per month, which means either a marathon, a short ultra or back-to-back marathons. I have seen a spectacular improvement, especially after the back-back, but it absolutely requires to recover from that big session, otherwise I will dig myself into that big hole again.

You learn from your mistakes. Dublin was a bit too fast, and the subsequent recovery just a bit too fast as well. There are fine margins. I ran Dublin at below-than-race effort, just not below enough. And the recovery runs were all at a genuinely easy effort, just not easy enough. Had I run Dublin a bit slower, say in 3:20, I think the effort level of the recovery runs would have been just fine but as it was I was always just over that line that I shouldn't have crossed.

Anyway, things aren't too bad, at least not yet, and can be rectified. It doesn't help that I lost my HRM (my guess is that it fell out of my bag in the train or train station) but I have finally received my replacement. I initially toyed with the idea of an optical HRM but the higher price paired with the lower accuracy drove me back to a chest strap, even though I have regular chafing issues with that.

This morning I remembered that several months ago I started looking into HRV (heart rate variability) measurement but didn't have the right equipment at the time and, being a cheap skate, decided against the purchase of yet another toy. However, my new HRM pod just happens to be one of the devices that supports those measurements, so from now on I will start using that. The idea is to measure my HRV values every morning and over time this should provide a good feedback with regards to recovery and overtraining status. We shall see.

Training has been low key this week, obviously. I followed the same recovery plan as always, a set of  daily 5 mile runs until the legs felt better and 8 miles a day thereafter, with a gentle increase to follow. Going forward, in an attempt to learn from my mistakes I will refrain from any future 3:10 training marathons (3:15 is fine if I am in good shape, as I know from experience), which should hopefully avoid mistakes like the one last month as I am trying to regain the kind of form that got me into the National team setup and into European and World championships.

The goal is setting a big number in a 24 hours race next summer. I haven't decided which race I am going to target but just yesterday I saw the announcement that the Irish championships will be held in Victoria Park again. Despite the fact that I usually break those kind of promises to myself, for once I intent to keep the promise never to run in Victoria Park again, the memories from that place are just too painful. That means I have to look for alternatives abroad. The Austrian championships are the most obvious target race; not only would a good performance in front of the the team management do my chances of selection no harm, it is also the venue of the 2019 World championships and being familiar with the place in advance would definitely be a bonus. Having said that, I haven't decided yet and would consider any alternatives.
20 Nov
4 miles, 35:18, 8:49 pace
21 Nov
5 miles, 44:19, 8:51 pace
22 Nov
5 miles, 42:44, 8:32 pace
23 Nov
5 miles, 41:20, 8:16 pace
24 Nov
8+ miles, 1:08:59, 8:15 pace, HR 138
25 Nov
8 miles, 1:04:05, 8:01 pace, HR 138

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Win Of Sorts

The timing was not ideal. Recovery from the Dublin marathon had taken a lot longer than I would have hoped and even though there had been some significant improvement in the last week I would have preferred one additional easy week before my next race. Therefore, when  going into this year's Sixmilebridge race my hope was that someone would run away at the start and the rest of us would not have to worry about victory and could just run at some easy effort that would get us through in one piece. When I saw John at the start I thought that runner might be him, but apparently he had other plans.

There is always someone at such a race that storms off at sub-7 pace. I fully expected that. What I did not expect was for that runner to be me!

Having fun early on
In my defence, it felt easy. I was surprised to be in the lead. But then I looked at my watch and saw 6:40 pace. Oops. Ok, it was downhill but still. I slowed down a good bit but I was still ahead of everyone else. I could hear footsteps behind me but nobody went by. I took it easy on the uphill but was still in the lead. I finished the first of the 30 one-mile-loops in the lead, unexpectedly. At the out-and-back section I could see one runner close behind, John a little bit further back, and Denis as well, though I knew Denis was in the 52-mile race, so not really a factor here.

The pace felt very comfortable, so I just kept it going. It was a touch slower that Dublin had been, which seemed to make sense. I kept hearing those steps right behind me, but the other runner did not attempt to pass. I wasn't going to get sucked into a stupid race at the start of an ultra so just kept going at my own pace, which just happened to keep me at the front of the field, without particularly trying to win the race.

After about 5 laps the other runner eventually appeared at my shoulder and introduced himself as Ted, apologised for chasing me but said that my pace just happened to be his comfortable pace as well. We chatted a bit for a couple of miles, during which the pace slowed a little bit, not that I noticed at the time. He got a couple of steps ahead of me when I picked up a drink and led for 2 laps before I went past again, still doing roughly 7:20 pace, maybe a little bit slower.

The (in)famous 1-mile loop in Sixmilebridge has only 1 hill. That hill is the entire course though. You run up one side and come down another, and the start-finish area has a little out-and-back section to make it exactly 1 mile, which is the only flat section. The hill has the nasty habit of getting a little bit steeper with each lap, as is pretty much customary on such a course.

Add caption
An hour after our start, about 8 miles into my race, the full marathon started and from now on it was significantly busier. They started just ahead of me, so my first real task was to make my way past most of the marathon field on that narrow path without incident, which worked well. Eventually I ended up right behind one marathon runner that pretty much went the same pace as I felt comfortable with at that point, so I followed him for 2 or 3 laps, eventually apologising for shadowing him, just as Ted had done to me earlier.

Right around that time it started to dawn on me that the early pace had been a little bit too fast and no longer felt comfortable. In fact, I did not like the way my quads felt during the steeper part of the downhill at all, I was afraid they were going to cramp eventually. I have misjudged the pace in Sixmilebridge on at least one occasion before; I guess I hadn't quite learned the lesson. Halfway came in 1:50, which would have sounded perfectly reasonable before the race but by now I knew I wasn't going to hold that pace for the second half and went into damage-control mode.

I did manage to keep going at a reasonable pace for a while longer but had a bit of a dip around the 20 mile mark, which is exactly what had happened in Dublin 3 weeks ago, though this time I was still a bit further away from the finish. I took in some extra fuel and mostly just put my head down and tried to keep the show on the road. A few marathon runners lapped me around that time, including one lady who was obviously winning. I didn't take too much notice and just kept going.

With Denis, winner of the 52 miler
As I went through the start/finish area at 23 miles, Richie asked me how many miles I had done and if I was in the lead, which was a slightly strange question to ask for an RD, and alarm bells went off in my head if the timing system had failed. It distracted me sufficiently to stumble over the timing mat and take a full nosedive, which caused a few scrapes on my hands as well as my legs, though I didn't even notice the latter until after the race. My right calf started cramping but was fine once I got up again and re-started running. Richie apologised, not that he had done anything wrong - I should have lifted my feet!

It was definitely a lot harder now. My breathing got ragged, especially on the uphill, but that is fairly normal for me and probably sounded worse that it was. I definitely was nowhere near race mode and expected to be caught any moment now for quite some time. It wasn't until I happened to lap John around the 25 mile mark, very much to my surprise, that I started to believe that I might win this thing after all. Not that it made much difference - I still had to cover the last few laps all the same.

I must have gone through the marathon in about 3:20 but was only doing about 8-minute miles at the time. I could have gone a bit faster but did not feel inclined to do so, and I was a bit worried about cramping, probably more than I should have been. After 28 mile I just about had enough and the last 2 laps were a bit of a sufferfest, though by then I could smell the finish and got through it.

Happy - mostly to be done!
They pretty much missed me coming in and only realised I was a finisher when I stopped, which is easy to do on a loop course, of course. I had a bit of a Gary O'Hanlon moment in that I crossed the line thinking I had won the race only to be told that I had come second. Remember the lady from mile 20? Turns out she wasn't the winner of the marathon but the 30 miler instead, and we had a female overall winner. I was still first male, which meant I had won my category, albeit in my slowest ever time in Sixmilebridge, and admittedly not against the most competitive field ever, and whoever was here was still hampered from the Dublin marathon 3 weeks earlier (as was I, of course).

So, big congratulations to Deirdre, well done. I probably wouldn't have been able to keep up even had I realised that she was in the ultra. I definitely misjudged the early pace (again!). I ran the first half in 1:50 and the second in 2:00, which is not a catastrophic slowdown but it's not particularly great either. It actually sounds worse if I say I was 40 seconds per mile slower in the second half.

Anyway, I very much enjoyed my run in Sixmilebridge, as well as the very unexpected (category) win and will definitely be back. However, now I seriously need to recover or I 'll end up back where I was 2 years ago and I definitely do not want to go there.

 All photos by Jane Doyle Fitzpatrick. Thank you!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sixmilebridge 30 miler - ultra short version

Came home first male but was beaten by the better woman into second overall. Started at an effort that felt very comfortable but turned out to be too fast. Ah well. Full report to follow, eventually.
19 Nov
30 miles, 3:50:01, 7:40 pace

Saturday, November 18, 2017

My Achy Breaky Heart

Bump, pause, double bump. Bump, pause, double bump. Bump, pause, double bump. That's what my heart beat felt like pretty much all week. Not when I was running - I can't really tell what it was like when I was running, but at rest. It was a bit disconcerting but I've had similar episodes several times before so I didn't panic and just got on with life. I don't think it has anything to do with overtraining because previous episodes have happened at stages when I definitely was not overtrained but in reality I have no idea what the cause of all that is. Googling the issue was strangely reassuring and anyway, I've seen a cardiologist only 2 months ago.

All this happened just the one week in 10 years when I am without my HRM, which is of course absolutely typical. I do have a little gadget that clips onto my finger and is really handy for measuring morning HR but completely unsuited to running. By Thursday, after a few days of clearly noticeable irregular heart beat, I thought it was resolved as I could not really feel it any more but said little gadget still showed an oscillating heart rate going between 45 and 50 at strangely regular intervals.

All the while I kept running, easily and with a reduced mileage. The legs are definitely feeling much better, I'd say they are finally over Dublin. I could feel my asthma but at such a slow pace it's just not a limiting factor, just a little bit uncomfortable.

Now it's Saturday evening and as far as I can tell the episode is behind me. I was unsure if I should skip Sixmilebridge this Sunday but this is a true soul race of mine and organised by some very good friends who I really want to see again, so I'll give it a go. It's probably one of those daft decisions that makes MC shake his head sadly and full of resignation, but I'll go anyway.
16 Nov
7.6 miles, 1:03:56, 8:24 pace
17 Nov
7.5 miles, 1:00:07, 8:01 pace
18 Nov
5 miles, 40:25, 8:05 pace

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Training Troubles, Work Woes

I did more of the same reasonably easy miles on the weekend. They went the same as most of the other ones: I felt so-so. Not bad but I'm certainly not in the groove I used to be in before the Dublin marathon. So, with a bit of nudging from MC, I decided to dial it back a bit.

I have slowed right down over the last few days. It's not as if I had run brutally fast the days before - I had just run at whatever effort came naturally which usually works very well for me, but following DCM it might have been just a tad too fast. I also pulled back the mileage a bit, which is actually a right pain because if I can't run all the way into work I have to take the car, and being stuck in traffic for an hour twice a day does nothing good for my stress levels, which can't be helpful with regards to recovery either. In that light I guess it's a Good Thing that my new bike arrived today, so I will probably be back in the saddle from now on - which happens to be by far the fastest way of commuting in Dublin, saves tons of money and is a lot of fun - I was surprised how much I enjoyed cycling here. Oh, and the additional fitness boost can't be bad either. Just don't crash! (or have the new bike stolen as well).

Measuring training progress has gotten a bit more complicated due to the fact that I somehow lost my HRM on the journey from Dublin to Kerry last Friday. I put it into my bag at home and failed to find it at the other end of the journey. It's not in our house in Kerry, it's not in my apartment in Dublin and it's not in the office. Eventually I had to admit that it was gone. I have ordered a new one but that will take a few days to arrive.

Work wise I basically have a new line of work since yesterday, namely looking for a new job. Being made redundant was a new experience for me but I already have a couple of interviews lined up, so I'm fairly sure I'll be back in meaningful employment quickly enough. And I'm still in my old job for another month. Let's see how that goes - I was actually kind of looking forward to being able to train every day without wasting away your day in the office. But the bills still have to be paid, and with the rent prices in South Dublin nobody can afford being out of work for long (until I win all those millions in the lottery, that is).
11 Nov
8 miles, 1:02:17, 7:47 pace
12 Nov
10 miles, 1:17:23, 7:44 pace
13 Nov
9.25 miles, 1:17:02, 8:20 pace
14 Nov
5 miles, 40:04, 8:01 pace
15 Nov
8 miles, 1:05:46, 8:13 pace

Friday, November 10, 2017

Recovery Lessons

One thing I learned the last 2 weeks is that recovery from a 3:10 marathon is a completely different animal compared to recovery from a 3:30 marathon, even back-to-back 3:30 marathons. A few days after Monaghan I was fully back in the saddle, knowing that the adaptations had been absorbed. It is taking a lot longer now, almost 2 weeks after Dublin the legs are still missing their spring and I have already dialled back the mileage on a couple of occasions in order to give them more to time to recover.

The reason this surprised me is that I definitely did not run Dublin at race effort. While I kept a decent enough effort it was well short of an all-out race effort, so I expected the damage to be a lot less. I guess those last 2-3 miles of fun at the end caused some damage I could have done without but what's done is done and there aren't any regrets.

All the while now I'm keeping the effort at an easy level, though it is noticeable that the pace is picking up again and getting closer to what it was like before DCM, without any change to subjective effort. That's good, because I have another race next week, in Sixmilebridge. I have very fond memories of that race ever since it had been the scene of a very rare all-out victory, and not even the painful finish the following year could tamper that. I'm not planning on racing it but a nice, decent long run should be fun - as long as the legs have sufficiently recovered from Dublin, of course.

I got another taste of living in Dublin last night at the Alice Cooper concert in the Olympia theatre. That's a rather unusual venue for a rock concert but that didn't do the atmosphere any harm, and the man sure knows who to put on a good show. Ever since I moved to Dublin the bands I used to listen to half a lifetime ago are coming here to play, so far I've had Green Day, Iron Maiden, GnR, and now the man himself. It's still waiting on Metallica and AC/DC but surely they are just patiently waiting for their turn at that stage.
5 Nov
8 miles, 1:04:13, 8:01 pace, HR 138
6 Nov
9.25 miles, 1:12:24, 7:49 pace, HR 138
7 Nov
9.6 miles, 1:14:40, 7:46 pace, HR 142
8 Nov
9.15 miles, 1:13:28, 8:01 pace, HR 143
9 Nov
6.25 miles, 50:07, 8:01 pace, HR 140
10 Nov
6.25 miles, 48:57, 7:49 pace, HR 142

Saturday, November 04, 2017


When you run a race, it is all about that one race, nothing else matters. But when you do a training run, the magic actually happens off-screen: the recovery afterwards, with the adaptation that follows.

I ran Dublin as a training run and as much as I enjoyed the raceday atmosphere, it wasn't why I was running that day. Now I need to ensure I recover well, otherwise I won't get the benefits of the adaptation. And I sure don't want to dig myself back into that deep dark hole that is overtraining; I have only just managed to climb out of it.

Over the years I have found a post-race recovery program that works exceptionally well for me. After the race I run for 5 miles a day, slowly, until the legs feel better again, then I add a few miles and after a surprisingly short amount of time I'm back in the groove.

This time round it worked very well initially. I did 3 5-mile runs, feeling better and getting a little bit each day. In fact, on the third such run I really had to hold myself back; the legs kept pushing on and time and time again I reigned them back in. So, on the Thursday I ran a little bit longer and this time just let the legs go as they pleased, which seemed like the right thing to do. I didn't push the effort and the HR of 136 supports this. However, the legs felt a lot more sluggish again on Friday, and it probably didn't help that I ran back home from work. That's just over 9 miles, a little bit longer than would have been ideal in my post-marathon recovery program, but you can't stop halfway in the middle of nowhere. On Saturday morning the legs definitely didn't feel great so I stepped right back and did 5 miles at a very slow pace, just like I did the day after the marathon. I'll take it by ear now. I'll decide pace and distance depending on how I feel each morning, until I feel recovered again.
1 Nov
5 miles, 41:18, 8:15 pace, HR 134
2 Nov
6.35 miles, 50:25, 7:56 pace, HR 136
3 Nov
9.2 miles, 1:14:47, 8:07 pace, HR 138
4 Nov
5 miles, 43:41, 8:44 pace, HR 129

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Back In The Game

Going into the Dublin marathon I knew I was in pretty good shape. Once again, this was a training run so I was not going to run at a full race effort but I knew I would be able to run 3:15 without going to the well. I had not tapered for it, the only concession being a very slow 5-miler on Saturday to keep the legs reasonably fresh for Sunday. My one slight worry, a pain in my left hamstring/gluten area was just about noticeable when I got up on Sunday morning but even as I walked towards the start it was completely forgotten about, and that was that.

Some old geezers from Kerry
I chatted to a few friends on the way, had plenty of friendly banter with the DBRC crew and met some old geezers from Kerry before lining up somewhere between the 3:10 and 3:20 pacers. I had no intentions of keeping up with 3:10 and even less of getting caught by 3:20, so here I was, stuck in the middle with you.

The first mile was a bit congested, as it always is, but the road soon opened up and we could run freely. I tried to get into a comfortable rhythm as soon as possible and by the second mile I had found my groove and tried to remain there. For me that means running the uphills a little bit slower than most around me and the downhills a bit faster, that is just the effort level I feel most comfortable with. I checked the watch a couple of times early on, mostly to ensure I wasn't doing anything stupid like running at sub-7 pace, but I settled in at around 7:15, so a marathon time of 3:12 or 3:13 looked likely, which I was more than happy with.

I kept taking it easy all the way through Phoenix Park, so I barely noticed the long uphill stretch that got us to the highest point, still early in the course. I passed a lot of runners on the following downhill miles, which also brought the average pace down a bit, but gave up a bit of both again on the other side of the Liffey when the climbs started again.

I felt exceptionally comfortable as we neared Crumlin Road, though I knew that was always my least favourite part of the course. No matter where the wind is supposed to be coming from, there is always a headwind on that stretch and it is a long, drawn out climb that always feels a bit harder than it should. However, today I felt better than usual. Maybe it was down to the fact that unlike in previous years we were not hemmed into a single lane but had the entire road to ourselves, which means all of a sudden it was not one of the most congested parts of the course but an exceptionally open one, which I felt much more comfortable with. Anyway, I reached the halfway point in about 1:35:20 on my watch, definitely a bit faster than expected but at the same time feeling a lot better than expected as well. The one thing that surprised me was that the 3:10 balloons still seemed to be a long way ahead of me; whether there was some confusion on the watch or if the gap just looked bigger than it actually was I cannot say for sure.

The next few miles often feel like a bit of a dead spot in the marathon as you run through a few non-descript suburbs where the buildings all look more or less the same to me and you're just there to make up some miles. The one thing that kept things interesting were the spectators, who were as spectacular as ever. No other race in Ireland comes even close with regards to crowd support, it is on a totally different level. The only place I have ever seen with even more enthusiastic supporters was Boston, but that's almost on a different planet.

Meeting some friends on Saturday,
 on The Road to Sparta
Anyway, I passed through Terenure, Milltown and Clonskeagh, a section that holds some good and some painful memories, as is bound to happen when you're doing a marathon for the 10th time. The Milltown viaduct will always be associated with a lot of pain because that's where the cramping started on my first marathon. The other painful memory would come a bit later on Roebuck road, where I had buried my hopes of a first sub-3 marathon back in 2008, though that memory eventually got a lot sweeter when I finally made it, albeit elsewhere. I was still feeling very good and relaxed until the 20 mile mark, by which time I had long started making my way through the field, past many a broken dream. I had not sped up but a lot of runners sure had started to slow down. Been there, done that, of course.

I had my own dip for a couple of miles when my energy levels started to sag and the legs became noticeable heavier. I took it a tad easier on the many little hills that await here and managed to take a gel as well as some sports drink. I guess it was that motherload of sugar that got me out of the funk pretty quickly. On the next hill I noticed that I was overtaking runners again even without trying, and when I looked up I realised that I was already halfway up "Heartbreak Hill" (yes, they copied that from Boston), and since that was the last hill of the course I knew I'd have a good finish of the race.

I heard a DJ giving a shout out to "Declan Murphy from Glenbeigh" and sure enough spotted him just a few seconds later, just ahead of me. Unfortunately he was walking and I caught up with him right at the top of the hill. I gave him a pat on the back and tried to coax him into following me but he just wearily shook his head and the look in his eyes told me he definitely wasn't going to run with me, so I reluctantly had to leave him behind.

I had one more issue, namely a side stitch. I think I got it when trying to drink from a cup and messing up my breathing for a bit, and now I struggled to get rid of it. Eventually I had to slow down a bit and take very, very deep breaths, which eventually loosened the grip. When I was able to run properly again I had just passed the 23 mile mark. There were 3 mile left.

At that point I decided I still had tons of energy in the tank and might as well have some fun. I put in a little bit more effort, cautiously at first down Nutley Lane, but once we hit the last left hand turn at the bottom we were on the final 2 miles and I put the hammer down and went for it. I did my fastest 2 miles of today and indeed, I had tons of fun. I passed a few friends as I made my way through the field, including Mike, another Kerryman, though he wouldn't come with me either. As we got closer to the finish the legs started to complain, sub-7 pace wasn't quite what they had expected at the end of a marathon, but I was close enough to keep going until the end. I crossed the line in 3:10:20, which I was very, very happy with. I would have been perfectly happy with 3:15, and if that had felt too hard I would have been satisfied with 3:20 as well. Instead I got the easiest 3:10 of my life, so all was good.

The last 2 years have been very challenging and at times incredibly frustrating. I had started to question if I was simply too old for this and doubted I would ever feel like that again. My times were going backwards and running often just felt hard, too hard for my liking. But in the last few weeks I had noticed the transformation and I had already dared to mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I am finally starting to feel like myself again, and the Dublin marathon finally confirmed this.

Watch out, world. I'm back!
29 Oct
Dublin City Marathon, 3:10:20, 7:15 pace, HR 152
30 Oct
5 miles, 42:45, 8:33 pace, HR 132
31 Oct
5 miles, 44:25, 8:52 pace, HR 125

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Before The Marathon

Training had gone really well this week. I have noticed an up-and-down pattern at times but this week was undoubtedly an "up" one.

It was all going so well, until halfway through my commute on Friday morning I tripped over a curb.

I managed to avoid a face plant but in the process of doing so I re-strained that muscle in my left hamstring/gluten area that had been bothering me recently but had been almost cured. Now it was back in full force. It hurt quite a bit for a few minutes until it settled down into a dull ache. I was able to continue my run into work without issue but it then felt uncomfortable all day, no matter if I was sitting, standing or walking around.

Even so, I was still confident that it would not impact on the marathon 2 days later, and a good night's sleep seems to have helped. I can still feel it but it's already better than yesterday and tomorrow it will he fine, I'm sure.

Since Dublin is a training run, not a race, I kept training normally all week, my one concession being a very slow and easy 5 miler this morning, Saturday. The legs had felt good all along, until this morning that is. But I'm sure that will all work out once the gun sounds. It always does.
23 Oct
9.2 miles, 1:08:39, 7:27 pace, HR 144
24 Oct
am: 9.2 miles, 1:13:13, 7:57 pace, HR 146
pm: 9.25 miles, 1:11:59, 7:46 pace, HR 143
25 Oct
9.2 miles, 1:11:57, 7:49 pace, HR 138
26 Oct
9.2 miles, 1:12:07, 7:50 pace, HR 141
27 Oct
9.25 miles, 1:11:42, 7:45 pace, HR 139
28 Oct
5 miles, 44:09, 8:49 pace, HR 128

Monday, October 23, 2017

Twin Storms

It looks like we skipped autumn this year and just went straight from summer into the winter storm season. I might have expected a little bit of respite after Hurricane Ophelia on Monday but no, we rushed straight into the arms of Storm Brian, which, at least in Dublin, was actually worse than the hurricane had been. I did the same as I always do in such circumstances: I checked beforehand what the weather forecast predicted and planned accordingly. Well, for Dublin the storm was said to hit a couple of hours before lunchtime so I made sure to get up reasonably early and do my morning run when conditions were still safe. It worked, again, and while it was windy it was definitely manageable.

The storm itself did look a bit scary at times, alright, though the intensity went up and down a few times. Even on Sunday morning it was still rather windy. It wasn't a full storm any more but I still had to fight gale force winds on my long run. The direction it blew from meant the first half was mostly into the wind and the return leg mostly with a tailwind, though by that time the legs were tired already and it didn't feel as if I could take any advantage of it.

The legs have been up and down quite a bit over the last few weeks. After feeling REALLY tired a week ago they felt REALLY great by Wednesday but then went back down to so-so the last few days. Obviously the increased mileage is taking some getting used to. Having said that, the fact that I ran a long run in windy conditions with an easy effort on tired legs and still ran comfortably under 8-minute pace is decent progress. Even a month ago that would have been completely out of the question.

With the Dublin marathon this Sunday I'll do my double run on Tuesday to give me several easier days to recover before the marathon. I'm not tapering as such, Dublin will be just another training run, albeit one I am very much looking forward to. I have missed it the last 2 years because of the Spartathlon in 2015 and Albi last year, so it's high time for a return. The course itself isn't much to write home about, to be honest. It is designed to keep disruption for the rest of the population to a minimum rather than to showcase Dublin itself, which is bit of a shame, but the vibe from both runners and spectators always makes up for it; it is always a very special race, nothing else in Ireland comes even close.

Anyway, I hope the legs will have come round once again by Sunday. I will decide on the day how I feel and what pace seems sensible for a training run but expect something in the order of 3:15-3:20.  But lets get this week out of the way first.
19 Oct
8 miles, 1:05:51, 8:13 pace, HR 135
20 Oct
9+ miles, 1:11:22, 7:53 pace, HR 141
21 Oct
10+ miles, 1:20:39, 7:49 pace, HR 145
22 Oct
18+ miles, 2:26:57, 7:52 pace, HR 141

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Blown Away

Most people have a pretty clear image in mind when they think of Ireland and the weather, and for a lot of time it is fairly accurate. Actual hurricanes don't usually feature, however, but that's what we got hit by on Monday, as you undoubtedly know.

There's plenty of idiots out there, as can be seen from the news reports featuring swimmers in Galway Bay in the background, though most people are sensible enough. I've been accused of being an idiot plenty of times, occasionally justified, though at the height of the storm I sure wasn't tempted to go out for a few miles. Instead I got my run in early, at around 7 o'clock in the morning when it was actually rather calm. It's all a matter of timing.

Let's step back a bit. I had been seriously worried last week about getting into an overtrained state again. As it turns out, that was a bit premature. The legs were tired because I ran twice a day two days in a row, which was a bit too much to handle. As soon as I reverted to running just once, the 23 hours of recovery time did the trick immediately. I felt perfectly fine on Saturday and even went out for a long run around the lake on Sunday, giving myself the option to bale out after 5 miles if the legs were tired but felt pretty good. Having said that, I am definitely still lacking strength, which gets shown up on all long climbs, which still feel much harder than they should. I am running plenty of miles these days but I need to incorporate a few hill runs as well, sooner or later.

Once the fatigue from the doubles went away my form curve shot straight upwards and all of a sudden I am starting to feel good. Really good! I did a few faster miles on Monday and averaged 7:40 in the end. This morning, Wednesday, was even better. I started out very slowly in order to gently warm up the muscles in the freezing cold but then got faster with each mile until I put in a 7-minute mile at the Sandymount promenade. Last month that pace put me into hospital. Today it was part of a run that still averaged a HR below 140!

As always, there's a fly in the ointment, though. While walking back to the office after a meeting last week (I would have cycled but you know yourself) I suddenly felt a pain at the upper end of my hamstring, maybe it was a glute muscle. It was uncomfortable for the entire rest of the day, including when I was sitting down. I was scheduled to run home that evening, which worried me, though when I tried to run it felt fine. Almost a week later I can still feel it, when running, walking sitting, even lying in bed. Nothing I do seems to aggravate it, so it's most likely just a case of being careful but otherwise just let it heal. I think something like hill sprints would worsen it, so I'm definitely not doing that for a while, otherwise I'll carry on as usual.
15 Oct
16.55 miles, 2:10:52, 7:54 pace, HR 144
16 Oct
9.35 miles, 1:11:34, 7:39 pace, HR 144
17 Oct
9.35 miles, 1:14:08, 7:55 pace, HR 136
18 Oct
am: 9.2 miles, 1:10:29, 7:39 pace, HR 139
pm: 9.25 miles, 1:17:13, 8:20 pace, HR 139

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Things Come In Threes

A friend of mine insists that bad things always come in threes, which is a really Irish thing to say. I don't believe in any of that crap but it made me think of him, so when I had my bike stolen and my job been put on the line on the same Tuesday morning I did wonder what other thing he would have added to make up the triple. Turns out, on that occasion he would have been perfectly right as Niamh called me later that day with the news that the washing machine had broken down. There you go.

Nevertheless, life goes on as normal. The washing machine is fixed already. The job may or may not continue, and if it doesn't I might get some redundancy payment that should last until I find a new one. And the bike was almost 10 years old with 1000s of miles of wear and tear, very much on its last legs and desperately needed replacing anyway - I very much doubt the scumbags got much for their loot. It's not the monetary loss that's the issue here - cycling is by far the fastest option to get into town and in around town as well, and not having a bike is a bloody inconvenience.

As it so happens, I had been planning on running twice a day on a few more occasions anyway, so with my most convenient commuting option gone I seized the moment and ran both in and out of work on Wednesday and Thursday. That's about 18.5 miles per day, but much easier than an 18+ mile long run in one go would have been.

Or at least so I thought.

What happened was that it went very well on Wednesday as well as Thursday morning, apart from the fact that the numbers looked much better in the evening than for the morning runs. However, as soon as I started Thursday's evening run I knew it wouldn't be much fun as the legs felt very tired. I hoped they'd come round after 2 or 3 miles but what actually happened was that I stumbled over a non-existing obstacle and face-planted. That happens only when you're tired, don't lift the legs properly and just shuffle along. I also banged up my knee, which I didn't notice until it stung in the shower later on, though there was no actual damage done.

Having said that, Friday morning was actually worse. The legs may have felt the same level of tiredness and I avoided any more accidents but when I got home and saw the numbers I realised that I had slowed down by almost a mile a minute! Yikes!

Now I was worried. I had only run 2 doubles, one more than 2 weeks ago, so it's not THAT much of a step up, is it? I had kept the effort easy, so I expected to be able to handle it. I guess I had not yet recovered fully from Monaghan, though I had not noticed any issues for the last 7 days. Was I due a break?

Well, as it happens, the luxury of 25 hours of recovery between runs seems to make all the difference. I went out on Saturday, back home in Kerry, to test out the legs and if they had felt tired I'd have gone back home straight away. However, quite to my surprise, I actually felt pretty good and kept going. I did limit myself to 8 miles in an attempt not to overdo it (again), but those 8 miles went very well, despite the strong wind not making things any easier. Still, I need to keep an eye on that, there's a hole somewhere that I don't want to dig myself into again.
11 Oct
am: 9.3 miles, 1:15:10, 8:04 pace, HR 143
pm: 9.2 miles, 1:12:39, 7:53 pace, HR 137
12 Oct
am: 9.25 miles, 1:13:17, 7:55 pace, HR 138
pm: 9.2 miles, 1:15:01, 8:09 pace, HR 135
13 Oct
7.2 miles, 1:03:06, 8:45 pace, HR 135
14 Oct
8 miles, 1:03:29, 7:56 pace, HR 141

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Not A Great Day

I woke up shortly before 6 o'clock, as I always do, but took my time to get ready because I was cycling to work this morning and had an hour to spare, which is nice. However, when I made my way down into the parking lot shortly after 7 o'clock my bike was gone. It had been secured against the bike stand, and I had a decent D-lock, but they cut through the bike stand instead and took my bike as well as a second one (to add to the insult, they left another one behind!).

On the bright side, the bike was almost 10 years old, not worth a lot to start with and very much on its last legs anyway, so I doubt they got anything for it. The lock and the new back light were worth more than the bike itself, I'd say.

I had to bring in some things into work, so running wasn't a great option and I made my way into town on public transport. It didn't matter that I was later than usual. We were all quickly ushered into a meeting, to be told that the company was closing down and we all had just a few weeks of employment left.


So, by 10 o'clock, I'd already had my fill of bad news. A friend of mine insists that things always come in threes though I could certainly do without another blow; just for today at least.

Real Life sucks. Running Life, on the other hand, which is my preferred life anyway, is still going smoothly. Who knows, I might soon have plenty of time do run an awful lot more.

I spent the weekend in Kerry, which meant I got to run along the lake, though I didn't do a full loop as I was trying to take it easy after last week's double header. The legs were moving quite well and my easy pace is improving quiet rapidly at the moment. Even so, I was really surprised to see such a low HR for 7:45 pace on Saturday. It went backwards a bit on Sunday, which shows that I'm still recovering. However, I met Sean at the end of my run, and the middle of his long run, and shared a mile with him. We didn't get to talk much as it was close to home already but it was nice to catch up again nevertheless. I might see him again in 3 weeks in Dublin.

I took it seriously easy on Monday, especially as I was carrying a backpack, which I usually try and avoid. Still, despite taking it really really easy I still averaged close to 8-minute miles, so who's complaining. Tuesday evening was ever so slightly different after receiving those hammer blows in the morning, but the run did me some good, mentally especially. And hey, it was my fastest run in a while - not entirely coincidental!

Let's see what happens now. I have money saved to keep me going for a good while, so we're not about to get kicked out onto the streets any time soon.

Say, you don't know someone looking for a senior IT developer or team leader in Dublin, do you?
7 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:30, 7:45 pace, HR 140
8 Oct
12 miles, 1:34:10, 7:50 pace, HR 142
9 Oct
9.35 miles, 1:16:06, 8:08 pace, HR 135
10 Oct
9.3 miles, 1:11:16, 7:39 pace, HR 144

Friday, October 06, 2017

A Numbers Game

I had been a bit worried about running back-to-back marathons. Not so much about the running itself, I know I can do that, but about recovery afterwards. I don't want to put myself back into a hole by neglecting my recovery, and I would not like to miss weeks of proper training either due to the body still in bits.

Well, wouldn't you believe it, the numbers this week have actually been nothing short of astounding. I took it really easy the two days after Monagahan, even starting with a 10-minute mile, but could tell as early as Tuesday that my legs were handling this exceptionally well. There was only a trace of stiffness left in the glutes on Wednesday, and even that seemed to disappear after a mile or two. And while I never once checked my watch to see how fast I was going (same as during the actual races, incidentally) I could tell that I was speeding up almost with each mile throughout the week.

On Thursday I posted the best HR/pace numbers I have all year, just 4 days after a double marathon, which absolutely amazed me. I won't get carried away just yet - in April I posted some numbers almost as good, only to get injured a week after the Longford Ultra. It's a lesson I have not forgotten yet. That injury had been caused by one single workout. The workout itself had gone astonishingly well, only for my Achilles to act up a day later, which took almost 2 months to clear up. There is no way of predicting injury but it is safe to say that I was not tempted to do a workout this week, or at the weekend for that matter.

Instead I explored the Cherrywood neighbourhood a bit closer, and I also added a run from work to Phoenix Park (and back) one morning. I'll still go easy on the miles this weekend - well, that's all relative; I won't be doing a long run - but if things are still good on Monday then I'm ready to go back to the mileage I had been doing before Monaghan.

I think I have finally recovered from Albi, both the race itself as well as the misguided training that had preceded it. I haven't felt as strong as I do now for a very, very long time. I fact, I had started to wonder if I would ever feel like that again, or if age had finally caught up with me. I guess there is still some life left in the old dog yet.
3 Oct
5.5 miles, 50:22, 9:09 pace, HR 125(!!!)
4 Oct
6 miles, 49:02, 8:10 pace, HR 136
5 Oct
7.1 miles, 55:44, 7:51 pace, HR 137
6 Oct
8 miles, 1:01:53, 7:44 pace, HR 143

Monday, October 02, 2017

One For Joy, Two For ... More Joy!

If I were still living in Kerry I would not even have contemplated driving to Monaghan for a marathon. That drive would just have been insanely long. From Dublin, however, it was just a bit over 2 hours, which by Kerry standards would almost qualify for a local race. A couple of months ago I had asked if there were any back-to-back marathons coming up, so when Les contacted me he did not have to do much to sell it to me.

Not that I knew much about what was in store. A quick search on strava pointed me towards some forest park and some hills, but that was it. So when just over 100 runners assembled on a glorious Saturday morning I still had no real clue where we would be going but I was looking forward to it nevertheless.

What was in store were 5 loops through Rossmore Forest park, and the way the road headed straight upwards for the first mile provided a clue what it would be like. To be honest, for the first 2 miles I hated it. I did not mind the gradient, I can handle a few hills. However, the stony gravel path hurt my feet with each step, and I'm a road runner, not accustomed to that sort of surface. In addition to that, my strength has always been to be a very efficient runner, getting bouncy energy back from each stride, which does not work on a softer surface (which is why I'm so poor at cross country), which meant I had to work a little bit harder with each step. However, the forest surroundings must have soothed me; halfway through the first loop the feet had grown accustomed to the surface and the forest park was just magnificent, I could not get enough of the views. The course itself kept zig-zagging through the park, up one hill, down another, past some lakes and rivers, and past a lovely meadow at the end. The very last bit was back on tarmac, towards the start/finish area before we got to do it all over again.

At first I was in fifth position but moved up to fourth by the second loop. One runner was right at my heels but never attempted to pass, so we just kept going. I could see one other runner not too far ahead, which made navigation easier as I could just follow him instead of having to rely on the signage (which, btw, was excellent, thank God for that with a dozen junctions at least per loop). It helped that it was a crispy clear sunny morning, which only helped to improve the magic of the forest.

The miles just flew by and the hills never bothered me. There was one steeper downhill section during the fourth mile which I immediately dubbed the "fun bit", just lean forward and spin the legs and hope for the best; it may have risked smashing your quads to smithereens for the later miles but I had far too much fun to worry about that now.

During the third loop I quickly caught up to the runner ahead and all of a sudden found myself in a podium position, which had not happened in a long while, and in fact I had started to doubt if that was ever going to happen again. It was not exactly a highly competitive field, true, but I still enjoyed being in the top three once more, absolutely. Just like in the good old days!

Anyway, I had a few minor problems during the fourth loop, including the fact that my glasses had literally rubbed off a piece of skin at the bridge of my nose. It did not hurt, but it bled quite a bit. I could have gone for a gruesome look but instead kept wiping it off - wearing an orange t-shirt help camouflaging the problem. The other runner, still on my heels almost 20 miles into the race, was worried about losing his pacer but I reassured him I was okay. The other, much more noticeable issue, was my asthma, which kept acting up. I managed to get enough oxygen into me with each breath even on the steeper uphill bits but I must have sounded like I was about to collapse. I'm sure I worried a few people, sounding like a steam engine on its last legs, but I felt a lot better than I sounded.

Anyway, we were soon on the last lap, which I did welcome because at some point past 20 miles the legs did indeed start to feel all the hills, though I managed to keep a good, relaxed rhythm going. I still had that other runner right at my heels, by now having exchanged a few words every now and again, and was wondering if I should offer to run into the finish together when he started to fall back. I wasn't trying to drop him and had not increased the effort but I guess he felt the miles a bit more than I did. Never mind, I just made my way home on my own and finished the marathon in a high 3:27. I had never once looked at my pace on the watch throughout the entire race; the first time I knew how fast I had been going was when I got to the finishing gantry. The timing was manual and they gave me 3:25 in a spreadsheet I saw the next day, but my watch definitely said 3:27, so that's what I'm going with. I finished in third place, apparently only a minute behind the two leaders.

Being a single parent, if only temporarily, meant I could not stay in Monaghan overnight and had to head back to Dublin and therefore had another early rise Sunday morning. I tried to follow a recovery protocol as much as I could (apart from sitting in the car for a couple of hours), and if you heard some high-pitched shrieking emanating from South Dublin direction on Saturday evening, that was me getting into an ice bath. That was probably the hardest part of the weekend. Give me a couple of marathons any time, but don't torture me like that!

Anyway, whatever I did must have worked because the legs felt surprisingly good on Sunday, even if my sleep had not been the best. It was deja vu all over again as I headed up the N2 again, ready to do it all over again. This time it was windy and raining, but what can you do. You don't get too many days like we'd had on Saturday in that part of the world.

This was the main part of the race weekend with well over 600 runners, including a half marathon. The course differed slight from Saturday as the first loop was to be through Monaghan town before we returned into the forest for 4 more loops of the same. Looking at the data afterwards I can see that I started a bit too fast, close to 7:30 pace for the first 2 miles, but eventually settled into a nice steady rhythm again. The legs felt so much better than expected, I was amazed! I had expected to suffer a lot today but instead I got to enjoy yet another marathon, rain be damned. After a few miles I had the same runner again on my heels, but this time I finally knew his name, Ken, after chatting for a while after the race on Saturday. He mentioned running a lot on trails in California, and I only caught on later that I should have asked him about Western States and some of the famous trail races there. Ah well, I might get the chance again some day.

Anyway, we kept churning out the same loops again, just like on Saturday. There was a hickup after loop 3 when I tried to pick up my drinks bottle, which I had prepared before the race, but the table wasn't where it had been before and I lost some time, getting frustrated with the situation and the volunteers who didn't seem to know what I was talking about. Three or four times I asked where that drinks table was, getting a tad louder each time, until someone pointed me to the re-positioned drinks table (right there, but it can be hard to see those things after a couple of hours of running). I didn't lose much time, probably less than half a minute, but for a moment I had let frustration get the better of me (probably not helped by the fact that just before that a truck had cut straight ahead of me into a driveway, making me run around him, which really annoyed me). I tried to put that minor hickup out of my mind and eventually got back into a rhythm.

I caught back up with Ken when he was walking up the first hill. I tried to goad him back into running but he said he had a cramp, and that was that. He would battle cramps for the last 10 miles on all uphills but managed to fly down the downhills, so it could have been worse, I suppose. My own race got a little bit more difficult as the hills seemed to grow with each lap and the asthma got worse with each hill but I managed to keep going. In fact, I'm pretty sure I made quite some progress through the field during the last 2 laps. I was still moving somewhat okay well for the final lap, the glory stretch, but was definitely getting closer to my limits now. Another lap or two might have gotten ugly, but I got away with it.

Once again, I finished the marathon without checking the pace on my watch even once and once more only saw my time when on the finishing stretch. It was a few minutes slower than yesterday, not surprisingly, at 3:33:45. The first thing I did was to seek out the volunteer from two laps earlier and apologised for raising my voice - they deserve so much better, especially on a rainy day like today. She was very gracious about it - thank you!

I was more than happy with all that. I was even happier later on when they calculated the times for the back-to-back marathons and I had moved up one spot into second. Not only that, they even had an actual podium there for us to stand on during the prize ceremony. Maybe it's not a big deal but I don't remember ever standing on an actual podium, and really enjoyed that moment.

I had expected to suffer through the miles today. Instead I got a prize and the glory of standing on a podium (I might have mentioned that before). Monaghan was certainly worth a trip. Two, even. As things stand, I can't wait to get back next year. You should, too.

28 Sep
9.2 miles, 1:13:52, 8:01 pace, HR 144
29 Sep
9.35 miles, 1:16:58, 8:13 pace, HR 141
30 Sep
Monaghan B2B marathon, part 1
3:27:55, HR 149, 3rd place
1 Oct
Monaghan B2B marathon, part 2
3:33:45, HR 145, 2nd place overall
2 Oct
5 miles, 45:42, 9:08 pace, HR 129